Do sugar and dairy affect acne?
Heavily processed industrial foods, including milk and sugar, are linked to acne.
Is dairy inflammatory? The short answer is yes. The majority of the cow's milk in the world are produced using industrial methods. This means that cows have to lactate for 10 months of the year. They are artificially inseminated and give birth to one calf yearly, because only lactating cows produce milk. They are often fed antibiotics and industrially produced meals, and kept in crammed spaces. The quality of the milk we drink depends on the quality of all the above factors.
Grass-fed cows produce higher quality milk and would be considered a better option. But all cows pass on some of their growth hormones through the milk. With acne linked to so many types of hormones (not just androgens), milk is often an issue with acne sufferers.
However, not all dairy seem to have the same effect on acne. Yogurt for example could be an exception. Perhaps the probiotics in yogurts improve the gut microflora and indirectly, the skin. Studies are still inconclusive. So if cutting dairy completely is a problem, try a yogurt with live probiotics.
The only way to know for sure how dairy affects the skin is by completely eliminating it from your diet first for a few weeks. If skin improves, you have potentially identified your first culprit.
Is sugar inflammatory? The short answer is yes. And there are different types of 'sugar'. The grand majority of sugar we consume today is highly refined. The refined sugar and the high fructose corn syrup, that make up the bulk of processed food, are inflammatory.
So what can we eat if we can't cut sugar out? Try fruits, pure maple syrup and pure honey (unpasteurised, raw and local if possible to avoid contaminated honey) on an oatmeal. These options will likely raise your glycemic index (GI), but they also come with many phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Carbohydrates are also sugar because they are quickly transformed into glucose after consumption. So a diet heavy in white pasta or white bread can also shoot up the level of glycemic index (GI).
Why is this a problem for acne? Because high GI food can increase the hormones that trigger production of more sebum. Also because high GI food leads to higher insulin production and sustained high level of insulin leads to inflammation.
Depending on your habits, getting rid of sugar or carbs may be an impossible task, but cutting down on sugary food, processed food, and balancing carbs with proteins and vegetables should be a goal.
What foods to eat if you have acne?
Anti-inflammatory foods like plant-based are the best. Food rich in antioxidants are also important. Try to obtain the nutrients from whole foods. An ascorbic acid (synthetic vitamin C) is not the same as a fruit that contains vitamin C. An orange contains vitamin C and also many other nutrients, antioxidants and fibre that aid digestion and absorption.
Fruits and vegetables also have low dietary acid loads. A lemon has a low pH (is acidic) but when consumed, it becomes an alkaline producing food. High acid load foods like meat, cheese, refined grains (like bread, pasta), soft drinks increase the blood sugar levels and inflammation.
Why is diet so important in targeting acne?
Without food, we die. Without food, the cells in our bodies stop functioning because the energy required to renew, reproduce and repair dries up. The energy for our cells come from the nutrients in our food. Foods that have little or no nutritional value are inflammatory which then can lead to several health issues, including acne.
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods give our cells the ammunitions to do their job. In other words, they feed our organism the nutrients needed for normal cell functioning. Nutrients are important and the alternative, the lack of nutrients, can lead to health problems.
Diet alone may not cure acne. How and why we get acne also depend on a person's genetics, health condition, gut health, habits, environmental factors, and more. This is why cutting dairy may improve acne on some people but not on others. But diet is the foundation where every cell in our body is built from. The wrong diet can lead to inflammation, and inflammation can lead to acne and other health problems.